David Goldman / AP
Charles Platt, of Atlanta, buys a Mega Millions lottery ticket at a convenience store, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, in Atlanta.
Step aside Powerball, it’s the refurbished Mega Millions' turn to shine.
For Friday’s drawing, the multi-state Mega Millions lottery game is sporting its second-largest jackpot ever — an estimated $400 million — after undergoing major changes to lure players who only buy a ticket when pots soar.
Indeed, Friday’s Mega Millions drawing is the fifth largest lottery jackpot of any kind in U.S. history, according to game officials.
The jackpot has been growing since Oct. 1 and has rolled over 20 times without a winner – thus the estimated $400 million jackpot, which also carries a $216 million cash payout option before taxes.
Mega Millions had been outshined somewhat by the massive jackpots of the Powerball game, which doubled ticket prices to $2 in January 2012, enriching jackpots as it also added a number of secondary prizes.
Mega Millions received a makeover of its own in October specifically to increase the size of jackpots. The biggest change was lowering the odds of winning, which led to fewer winners and more rollovers.
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In 2010, Mega Millions had already expanded its reach beyond the 12 original states to match Powerball’s 43 states, plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Then in October, the $1-a-ticket Mega Millions made five of the six numbers needed for a jackpot win range from 1 to 75 rather than 1 to 56. The sixth number – the gold Mega Millions ball – is now from 1 to 15 after the revamp, instead of 1 to 46.
Those changes lowered the odds of winning from about 1 in 176 million to about 1 in 259 million. For comparison, the odds of being struck by lightning in any one year is 1 in 700,000, according to the National Geographic Society.
"The revamp has given us a game that has a better chance of rolling and growing more quickly," said Paula Otto, the Virginia Lottery's executive director and Mega Millions' lead director told The Associated Press. "There's some things we can control, there's some things that we can't control. Of the things we can control, those changes seem to be working."
Indeed, players seem to be responding by scooping up tickets.
“I don't usually buy Mega Millions, but I saw it on the news last night," Megan Leo, who works in insurance in Des Moines, Iowa, told the AP. "Usually when the jackpot is this high, whether it's Powerball or Mega Millions, I'll play. Can't win if you don't try."
Jim Watt, a mechanic in suburban St. Louis who bought tickets for an office pool of more than 20 co-workers at the Webster Groves Subaru dealer, said the group usually passes on Mega Millions and its lesser prizes. But this time it’s different.
"We usually don't play until the jackpot is at least 100 million," the 46-year-old said. "I'm not very optimistic. The most we ever hit was 100-some dollars. Maybe $200, but we're still at it."
Both Mega Millions and Powerball have expanded secondary prizes of $1 million and more.
Otto told the AP that since late October, 30 people have won the $1 million secondary prize, including two winners that scored $5 million and $3 million prizes. Powerball has awarded its $1 million prize more than 820 times and its $2 million prize more than 130 times in the past two years.
Six Powerball jackpots have exceeded $200 million in 2013, and two have surpassed $400 million.
The largest Mega Millions jackpot was $656 million, split three ways by players in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland in April, 2012.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published December 13 2013, 6:17 AM